Call Me Invasive

December 18, 2019

I’ve discovered a new/old wonderment in my sunrises and sunsets:  the murmuration of starlings.

This is what the above photos attempt to capture:  a giant car pool of birds, all of them having arisen from their night roosts and gathering en masse in order to cross the river into the grain fields that will provide them energy to survive.  Raptors are not unaware of the starlings plans, so these long ribbons of birds, foaming like smoke and creating their own microclimates as they wheel to and fro, are also protective devices to confuse predators and minimize loss.

Last Sunday collected along the small town’s streets to watch the illuminated holiday parade.  Strands of lights detailed the local speedway’s monster car float and adorned various farm implements that chugged down the street.  I could smell the diesel fuel from my perch a block away.  Prior to the parade’s start, I watched as volunteers lugged bags of candy intended for the crowd and wondered why people would bother to drive into town to watch decorated flatbeds and grab for cheap candy but they wouldn’t step out each morning and night to gaze up at the masses of birds.

Yesterday I walked to the post office and saw quantities of unwanted candy and discarded wrappers littering the parade route.  Perhaps this trash is similar to the legs and feathers of starlings I’ve been spotting in the past month or so.  People will tell you the European starlings are invasive, introduced by some hapless human during the 19th century, and causing, like many invasive species, a certain amount of havoc in their adopted environments.

I’m not sure who has more to learn about invasive species and their capacity both to captivate and repulse:  the parade spectators or myself.  I can only say I’m still in the running, trying to learn on the fly and continuing to marvel at how much life has to reveal.

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

wide open

January 19, 2019
One of the regular sites I go to has an editor that ends his weekly round-up of madcap news stories (all political because that’s where the crazies most regularly perform) with an excerpt from something he’s reading.  He posted this a week ago.

“To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

from The Monarchy of Fear: a Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum

This week he had a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson.
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
You can see the drift.  I think fear provides the terms of courage, but we can’t deny ourselves the chance to talk about the fear not only for healing trauma but more importantly in the off chance that there are people who need to see how life works from the inside-out.
Since the horrific holiday I endured many small kindnesses have been bestowed upon me  I don’t mean to diminish the significance of all of them by sharing a story of one in particular that ended up being … perhaps … a gift I wouldn’t have accepted if I’d understood the terms in advance.
Without dredging up the murky details, I needed another vehicle and a person in the middle of the week without almost no advance notice possible to get me out of the house I’d been renting.  If I hadn’t met a former NPS co-worker in a grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, I would have been out of luck.  Furloughed by the government shutdown, near by, and still harboring kind thoughts of me from our brief time working side-by-side in the late summer of 2017, Chris had assured me he’d be there when the time came.  And he was.  However, in circumstances he would never have allowed himself to get into, given his overall conservative, if not downright timorous nature, he couldn’t help but feel that his vehicle loan & mediocre stacking assistance also required a large portion of advice on how to live my life going forward.
This attitude had been seeping out in the short time I’d rushed around packing and shifting my few belongings into his truck and my car.  But it was when we finally got to my new apartment and I offered to buy him lunch as a thank you that he pronounced his final act of largesse.
“You can thank me by never talking about this to people,” he answered.  “If you meet a man, don’t start talking about court cases and suing your landlord and this and that.  He’ll label you as a ‘drama-mama’ and stay as far away from you as you can.  Just forget about what happened and put it all behind you.”
What I had endured in the almost three weeks since an alcoholic landlord had gone to the magistrate and secured an emergency protective order againt me based on lies he wasn’t required to prove deserved more than this.  I hadn’t required my former co-worker to sympathize – I had friends who were there for that – just to help me move with a minimum amount of judgment.  He had fallen short, and I felt bad that I was unable to be 100% grateful for the little he’d been able to offer that I had indeed needed.
After he left, my thoughts were now not only oppressed by the recent reign of terror but also that this person was sincerely convinced that by counselling me to keep my mouth shut he was doing me a favor, one greater than providing a truck.  That this person had been witness to another instance of my being bullied out of a job the Autumn we worked together and that he was currently furloughed due to the government shutdown — another manifestation of the bullying now in full ascendance everywhere — made it more dispiriting.  His advice distinctly implied that I was drawing these unfortunate events to me by my behavior and that to stop them I must never speak of them to anyone.  Was there no possibility of making connections in this increasingly hostile world that were based on solidarity against the oppressors?  Did we all have to cower in fear, hoping the storm would pass over us and devastate someone else — hopefully someone we didn’t know so we could pretend we “deserved” our near-miss?
Well, the mind, if cultivated assiduously, is there to find or create some form of survival mechanism, whether it’s a tattered life raft or an elaborate long-range escape plan.  It didn’t take long for me to realize was that there was no way I was required to buy into the fear he was shoveling my way.  Buying into it, in fact, was the one sure way to make it grow bigger, stronger, more dangerous.  Testifying about the fear, about the trauma, was one way to find out who was willing to stand beside you and say “Me too.”  It was a way to remind others hiding in the dark places of their mind, in the most depressed moments of their — and our nation’s — lives, that it is because of fear that we are able to express faith and hope and courage.  To be, in essence, a human being still capable of openness and trust, the only species I’m a card-carrying member of and the only species capable of creating a way out of this mess.

This Christmas will not be televised

December 23, 2018

“The candle is not lit
To give light, but to testify to the night.”

— Robert Bly

For the past few mornings, I’ve been lucky to spy Mercury and Jupiter in the eastern sky.  Messengers of hope during (yet another) dark time.

Last night I lit a lightly cedar-scented candle, hoping it would hold its own against the horrible chemical fragrance arising from downstairs and pushing its way into my room.  In the dark I tried comforting myself with the thought that the scent was a residue from cleaning up another mess from landlord’s aging toy poodle and would dissipate by morning.  When I arose to find that they’d managed to hit on the one thing that could drive me out of a hole – a plug-in unit emitting Febreeze – I felt desolate.  The police officers they called 3 times last Tuesday evening would not do a thing to me, but this might well do the trick.

It’s a dreary time here in what was once my refuge, as my landlord and wife have returned.  Knowing the facts of how he bullied previous tenants long-distance and how easily any good will my behavior accrues over time gets trashed when the other person’s value system is premised on zero compassion, I looked but failed to find a temporary lodging for me and George.  A few friends counseled that I was overreacting: “they might be lovely people,” they opined.  I knew this translated into “shut up with your stupid anxieties” but decided that I might well be underestimating my abilities to endure what was supposed to be a brief layover before they moved into their Maryland condo.

But time speeds up when vast quantities of vodka are involved.  Within 24 hours I knew this was one of the prevailing factors behind his previous e-mailed rants.  But what did this knowledge matter?  I am in the soup, and it stinks of Febreeze.

I have about a week to go before my new apartment is painted and cleaned.  When the quotation above came to me this morning, minutes after I’d stepped back into this Bed-Bath-and-Beyond-scented hell following my communion with the planets and the river at dawn, I thought, “This is another gift.”  Art reminds us of our best abilities: not merely those that allow us to endure punishing humiliations but those that find the gleaming threads connecting us to others across time and space, that allow us to grasp them, and hold them close in our darkest hours.

 

a brief update: the return

October 3, 2018
I’ve been too busy to get to the bottom of the date I put in my application for the adjunct faculty position in American Literature that I’m now filling at the community college.  It seemed significant to know.  But with working 2 jobs, commuting to 2 homes, and then, finally, moving, I’ve had to let more than a few things slide.  Today, puttering around and pulling out slips of paper with various user ids and passwords, I located the Virginia state application information and captured the date: December 15, 2017.
This was the day I’d seen my former lover, almost 15 months to the day we had said goodbye.  After that reunion, in the dark of the moon, at the end of a long tumultuous year, I put a resume in a bottle and sent it down stream.  In August 2018 the new academic dean would place it on the top of a stack of papers and e-mail me.  On the morning of August 10, opening my e-mail at my job at Great Falls Park, I would have to read his inquiry twice before I could recall that an earlier version of myself had tried to find a way to remain in the Northern Neck before she’d decided to leave at the end of April.
This is what I wrote before the dawn broke last December 16.
The crescent moon is so thin it looks more like a cut out through which a brighter radiance is shining.  Spica, Mars, and Jupiter lead the way, a crooked path the moon, exhausted, has already traveled.
I think of what I have learned, this lunar cycle, this year, this life.  Even memories from last summer seem to arrive from someone else’s life.  Watching the Capricorn full moon lift over the canyon walls in Bandelier.  Was that me?  Walking before dawn in Colonial Beach. The Rio Grande in Spring.  Now here.
At this moment, what feels true is that I have learned what it is to love.  Real love isn’t about what you might derive from the transaction.  “If I love him, he’ll cook dinner, sit with me on Friday nights, empty the trash can full of my discarded kleenex, never leave.”  Those are bargains based on a false economy of gain and loss.  Real love understands the world as it is — a place where others gamble for the upper hand but where true lovers have already swallowed loss, understanding that beauty and truth necessarily partake in it.
So now I love not only a man as divided against himself as any other but everything he loves.  I no longer sense a division, a competition, between what he gives to me and what he gives, for instance, to his wife, to his children, to the shut-ins who will see his sunny smile more often than I ever will.
My gift has to be not to let him know.  Because I’m strong enough.  Because I know what I can do without.  Because the more love I send out into the world, the more I will receive.  That it is not reciprocal?  Oh well.  We all have our problems.
This morning the Potomac is tranquil.  How beautiful.  How the Universe lets me know that I am taken care of.  What changes are afoot, I wonder.  Am I prepared?  Will I be able to afford a new pair of jeans?
Once again, after a hectic summer in metro DC, George and I are in our refuge on the edge of the Potomac.  From deep within me I am retrieving parts of myself I had forgotten that I knew.
What I wrote in my last incarnation at this spot seems true not just for loving people but for loving the world.  Loss is the one thing that’s assured in this life, but when you toss things away, amazing gifts can rush in to fill the void.  Or so the river tells me.

A trick of light

April 28, 2018

a good omen

A post I wrote years ago was about rainbows.  A friend had given me a crystal pieced out from a chandelier, and when the sunlight hit, small rainbows would dance across the surrounding surfaces.  On sunny days, Bandit would tire himself chasing them; on cloudy days, he sit morose, troubled for a reason he couldn’t quite identify.  My post ended with the proclamation, “yes, Bandit, there will be rainbows.”  It’s a phrase I’ve thought of again and again over the many years, cloudy and sunny.

In this beautiful location where I’ve been privileged to nest for almost 7 months, the same crystal, hanging from a east-facing french door, has brought me many rainbows.  That I have struggled with many demons during this time of solitude is an understatement.  Yet each time I see those bouncing dots of refracted light, I think of Bandit’s joy, which for me represents a total commitment of being in the moment that is the gift of incarnation.

George and I will be leaving today.  We will be going to a place that will challenge us both in ways we currently cannot imagine.  I am hoping, for both of our sake’s, that we will find strength in knowing that even during our lowest moments what is best in ourselves and in others is also present.  Last night’s lovely rainbow over the Potomac seems a good harbinger for our new adventures.